So there’s this really famous Ted Talk by Ken Robinson entitled, “Do schools kill Creativity?” I’m sure most of you have seen it. It’s considered to be one of the greatest and most widely viewed Ted Talks of all time.
For starters, I don’t believe schools creativity, but I do believe he brings up some good points.
In less than 20 minutes, Sir Ken Robinson lays out a simple blueprint for how education needs to change to encourage more innovation. He exposes the unfortunate reality that as young kids, we have endless opportunities to create and innovate; but as we get older, those opportunities slowly diminish. As we age, we learn that there are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers; An overwhelming focus on high stakes testing; and a “real world” that demands we start to get “serious” about our learning.
He illustrates this point through a concrete example of divergent thinking. He explains that while a young child can think of over 20 divergent uses for a common household item, an adult is only able to muster a few. (See full Ted talk here)
How to Innovate Like a Kid
So how do we innovate like a kid? And more importantly, how do we ensure that our students are provided the opportunity to be innovative and creative?
Divya Samtani, a communication specialist based in Hong Kong may have stumbled upon the answer. In her work with some of the most prominent tech and startup companies, she has boiled the ability to innovate down to to five simple factors.
I have shared those five secrets below, with what I believe to be their implication for the classroom:
Kids have the extraordinary ability to create the miraculous from the mundane. I remember building little fortresses and hideouts in my house, imagining they provided an invisible cloak against all evil creatures.
How might you create the same room for imagination in your classroom?
Invite students to re-arrange/ decorate your classroom. Have them give it a name/ theme and create a story behind each section. We completed this exercise when starting our new program a few years back. The mini-ampitheatre became the ‘colosseum,’ and the teacher’s office- the ‘shark tank.’
How comfortable are you with chaos? Disorganization?
Chances are, if you are going to encourage creativity and innovation amongst your students, things are going to get messy. Rather than have the whole chart mapped out for whatever experiment, problem, activity, or assignment that they encounter, allow room for divergent thinking.
Turn your walls into writable surfaces. Plaster large pieces of butcher paper on the surfaces and equip each student with a marker or colored pencil.
Post a provocative question that gets them thinking.
The more you demonstrate comfort with uncertainty, the more comfortable and confident your students will feel with taking risks as well.
Samtani writes that kids have this incredible gift of seeing things with simplicity. They are honest and blunt. When they don’t know something, they are comfortable admitting their ignorance.
As a teacher/ guide, how might you take that same approach?
Your students are watching you all the time. Beyond the lessons you give or activities you assign, more importantly, your students are watching how you behave.
When I first started teaching, I was absolutely terrified of making a mistake. I would only teach the things I knew well. As a result, I missed so many opportunities to connect and foster divergent thinking amongst my students.
Be a learner alongside your kids, and take the same simple approach to new ideas and knowledge.
Be a Learning Machine
Similar to being simple, creativity and innovation demand that we act as sponges; soaking up new material to challenge previously held beliefs.
Socrates once said- “I know that I know nothing.” Like a child, Socrates encouraged his pupils to question everything. This ensured they were always growing, always learning.
Do you encourage students to inquire/ question? What is something new that are you learning right now?
A good way to encourage this questioning and divergent way of thinking in class is to make thinking visible. Create an inquiry wall dedicated to student questions. You can start the wall with student questions related to your current unit of study, and then open it up to questions student have related to their own interests.
One of the best teachers I ever worked with was also a singer/ songwriter. He wrote a beautiful song about not losing “our sense of wonder.” In the song, he encourages us to see the world as kids do, where possibilities are endless.
It is the same sense of wonder that put a man on the moon; gave us the ability to fly; and created a vast digital ecosystem called ‘the internet.’
How do you help support your student’s sense of wonder?
A very easy way to support our students’ sense of wonder is to allow flexible time for students to explore. Provide an hour a week for students to work on something they are curious about. You can call it ’20 time’ ‘passion time’ or ‘flex time.’ Regardless of what you call it, ensure you have no hidden agenda or expectation regarding what they produce. Just ask that they explore something of interest.
After all, it was this ‘off the clock’ time first provided by Google that provided some of the biggest breakthroughs!
A Focus for This Week
As you go through this week, whether in the classroom, or as an administrator overseeing teachers and systems in your school/ learning programme, remember to imagine, get messy, be simple, hunger for learning, and feel wonder.
To your week of wonder and creativity!